Above Moscow with Russian Spiderman

Sergei Devlyashov is a roofer and a self proclaimed Russian Spiderman, who likes to spend his free time on top of the highest buildings — hanging, climbing, running and performing crazy acrobatic stunts with no safety ropes. This stuff is extremely dangerous—hanging 500 feet up means that slightest mistake will turn tragic. It is also illegal. But Sergei is very passionate about his work.

He took us to the top of the construction site in Moscow. It was breathtaking. It was completely utopian.

Originally appeared at Heat Street:

http://heatst.com/life/exclusive-watch-russian-spiderman-risk-life-and-limb-high-above-moscow/

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Police Officer Secretly Paints For 25 Years, Leaves Behind Incredible Collection

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Standing in front of a painting by Richard De Cosmis – in his studio, improvised from a garage of his house in Weehawken, NJ – was a revelation in many ways.

Broken turbulent lines depicted a figure of a man, his torso bent, placed against an abstract background. It was reminiscent of the contorted bodies in the work of Michelangelo and Francis Bacon. But the painting I was looking at had its own unique style.  Who is this artist? And why we haven’t heard of him?

Richard De Cosmis was a police officer. He died last year, leaving behind a large collection of paintings and drawings, as well as a mystery yet to be solved, on the over 100 paintings he produced, in seclusion, over the last 25 years.

I had the honor to be one of the few people to see the collection while it was catalogued by the family, who still didn’t know what to do with all these works.

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A series of paintings in which figures are huddled together, positioned off balance, slumping over the other’s shoulder, or even as if floating weightless in mid air are simply striking.

His family tells me that De Cosmis began painting after retiring his 30 year service as a police officer and was a self taught painter, a total outsider in the art world.

However, a great amount of books, sketches, and notes scattered in the studio suggest that he was very conscious about what it was he was trying to achieve.

I look through some handwritten notes: “Traditional out. Paint: or quit!”, “Essentials: mood, emotions, tension” , “Forget realism”, “Reduce Definitions”, “Negative space needs movement.”

In one he also admits being influenced by the New York School of Art and Bay Area Figurative Painters, but yet not following any formal academic principle in painting.

What is it indeed that influenced De Cosmis’ work? Or more so – what made him paint in the first place? It might be a mystery. But as I was standing in his studio surrounded by his works I realized that it wasn’t just about passing the time. He had great instinct and sensibility and the need to express something… Maybe it was about “crystalizing” the moment of one’s existence in a Proustian way, as all we have.

De Cosmis painted what was real. He stripped down the reality and illustrated it as a sensation. His paintings and drawings reflect that which he was most familiar with – they are expressions of his experiences. Experiences of futility of being and violence of life.

“He was quick to destroy his painting if he didn’t like it,” says his son Richard De Cosmis Junior, who is also a police officer. He tells me that his father would spend most of his day in the studio painting, but no one in the family could really comprehend what was motivating him.

He showed his works to few, mostly his family. He didn’t visit museums. He didn’t interact with any other artists. Apparently art books were his only point of reference, and there are plenty of them in the studio.

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His son also reveals that De Cosmis, while being very serious about his works, never looked for public recognition.

“He had one man show once,” he explains “and then he never wanted to be exhibited again. He had many offers to sell his paintings then, but he refused to put a price on them or to part with them.”

I then ask him what he sees in his father’s works and he says “things he dealt with as a police officer.”

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In the studio of the painter all the brushes and tools are still on the table. A collection of art books- De Kooning, Kokoschka, Francis Bacon, Matisse, Muybridge’s “Human Figure in Motion” resting on the bookshelves. And one unfinished painting still on the wall.

I am stricken.

This profound collection was created without any academic training, any creative surrounding and no direct interaction with other artists.

And I am truly wondering if this man, a former police officer, and a father of five children, might at some point be recognized as a great American painter.

 

This story originally appeared at Heat Street:

http://heatst.com/life/police-officer-secretly-paints-for-25-years-leaves-behind-incredible-collection/

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With director Heiner Goebblels and incredible soprano Evgenia Sotnikova

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and the story at Harper’s:

http://www.bazaar.ru/culture/heroes/rezhisser-khayner-gyebbels-pustaya-stsena-vo-vremya-spektaklya-shag-navstrechu-voobrazheniyu-zritelya/

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Many faces of Muhammad Ali

This story appeared at Heat Street, Dow Jones http://www.heatst.com

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

Muhammad Ali, an American hero, a martyr, a provocateur, a clown, an uncompromising black nationalist and a great performer who brought a profoundly human face to a savage and dangerous sport of boxing. Some said he was a narcissist with a constant need for attention. Others called him a madman, a rebel. Norman Mailer put it simply “not comprehensible, for he could be a demon or a saint, or both.”

A showman, an entertainer, a loud mouth, Ali was also compared to a six foot parrot who keeps screaming from the stage “I am a great performer, I am a great performer” or “I am the greatest, I am the champ.” He made it part of his “show” to start the battles long before the ring, indulging his opponents in physiological warfare. Like that one day when Ali came to the door of a boxer Floyd Patterson calling him a rabbit and then with all theatricality handing him a bag of carrots.

In his 1964 interview to Sports Illustrated Ali said “Where do you think I would be next week if I didn’t know how to shout and hiller and make public sit up and take notice? I would be poor, for one thing, and I would be down in Louisville, my hometown washing windows or running an elevator and saying “ yes suh” and “no suh” and “knowing my place”.

He was outspoken, in fact he was the first “to talk in boxing”. He fiercely advocated African American pride and racial justice. He refused to be drafted during the Vietnam War, which made him an exile in boxing between the ages 27 to 30. He changed his name from Cassius Clay, what he called a “slave name” to Muhammad Ali and converted from Christianity to Islam. He was certainly an invention of himself.

In his interview to Jose Torres he said: The Vietnam War. Didn’t I take a stand when it was unpopular? Wasn’t I right? I changed my name to Muhammad Ali. Aren’t black kids changing their names today? I was the first to talk in boxing. Now all boxers talk. They are writing the poems, doing the shuffle, clowning in the ring, using my gimmicks, giving interviews. They never did that until someone who could see further came along.”

Another side of Muhammad Ali was captured by my dear friend and a great photographer Alex Harsley. Harsley spent time with Ali back in 70s in his training camp. Below are memories from his time spent with Ali…Along with the photos…Up Close and Personal…

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“Ali liked to show films about Jack Johnson late in the evenings. Johnson was the first African American heavyweight champion and was Ali’s all-time hero. That night we watched The Great White Hope –a 1970 film with Jack Jefferson playing Johnson. Ali had his 16 mm film projector and everyone would just stand around and watch him figure it out, no one could touch the projector.”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“He was a great actor. When I was with him, he was a very quiet, introverted, but when press showed up he would immediately go into being a showman. Just like when he was at the ring”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“It was a whole different thing for me to see Muhammad, this kind, introverted person, then go to the ring and smack someone as hard as he could with his gloves and hear the sound of a glove hitting the body. After third round you could see him in ultimate pain.”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“That time was transitional for Ali. He just lost a major fight to Joe Frazier. He wasn’t in a good state of mind, he had to start all over again–training and proving himself in a long run. He knew the sacrifice he was going to make to continue boxing till the end.”

“This photograph is really important. It captures Ali looking at his daughter and shows this immediate relationship and bond that was formed between them. This is an image of him on the ring after he was defeated looking back at his latest offspring.”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“’There is a horse right there, Ali!  Come ride a horse,’ I said. This is how Ali got on the horse for the first time. It was a great photo opportunity. It was also interesting to see how Ali would feel on top of the beast, how he would make it go where he wanted it to go. Of course, Ali mounted the horse from the wrong side and looked semi comfortable. But he liked to experience these new things. A man who is always in control, who literally knows what is going on around him almost 360 degrees was learning how to ride a horse.”

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With Muhammad Ali in the darkroom

Printing a photograph of Muhammad Ali with an incredible photographer Alex Harsley.

 

 

 

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Will the “Japanese from the Federal” Save Brazil From Terrorism?

 

japa fed 2The torch has arrived in Brazil and the days to the opening of Rio summer Olympics are on a count down. And in this vast country with a 500 hundred plus year history, the all time hero, the man who is putting ‘order’ to the chaos, is a tiny “Japa” (a son of Japanese immigrants, as are six million in Brazil), a high ranking Federal agent, serious as hell, who gets the job done and arrests the highest authorities in the country, counting in the former president Lula, Congressmen and so on.

Yet the question that concerns many– is Rio de Janeiro safe enough to host more than half a million tourists? And we are not talking about safety concerns because of the zika virus, or sewage-infested waters in which some athletes will compete, or safety in the midst of the protests in Brazil’s political crisis. In fact, Rio’s street demonstrations resemble something more like a carnival parade… But the question is really –will Brazil manage to secure Olympics from any potential terrorism? How will our Japa friend or, indeed, the troops, distinguish a real bomb from the ever so frequent fireworks in this festive country of samba “beleza pura”?

The concern is quite legitimate. There has never been a terrorist attack in Brazil’s history. Of course, if we don’t count that 40 years ago, during the military dictatorship, anyone in opposition was a “terrorist”, and was jailed and tortured. In fact, current President Dilma Rousseff herself was among those terrorists back then and perhaps, her impeachment–in the grand scheme of things–is a microscopic grain of salt…

But when it comes to such a worldly event, to the torch, all that inflammatory ‘flame’ burning up the headlines of the world literally and not so literally; all the political innuendos and egos of all the countries competing– will Brazil be prepared to deal with real terrorism threats?

Of course, Olympics is, in principle about sports and about peace. It is about stunning opening ceremonies where the host presents its history; it is about adrenaline, celebration and the world coming together as one. However, Olympic Truce seems to have worked only in Ancient Greece whereas the modern Olympics has had to contend with wars, boycotts, protests, walkouts, and terrorist attacks.

We can only nervously gaze at the map of Brazil with its uninhabited Amazon forest, almost the size of Europe… And follow the news about just another high-profile official connected to the games to exit in recent days. Brazil’s sports minister, George Hilton, is out, the Head of security out…

Maybe the new Brazilian anti-corruption heroes judge Moro and agent Newton Ishii, The dreaded Japa Fed, who are leading the infamous operation Lava Jato investigation (Car Wash) into the state controlled oil company Petrobras– will protect the country on all fronts?

But jokes aside, previous games the world didn’t have the ISIS threat hanging over its shoulder. Now it does. And even then… The chance of a terror attack during the 2012 London Olympics was “severe”–second highest classification level. Remember how the UK was placing high-velocity missiles on the roof of residential buildings in East London? Sochi games in 2014 had a very high threat of a terror attack as well when 34 were killed in a bus explosion near the host city and Dagestan military group posted a video promising a memorable Olympics. Same goes for the Beijing games 2008 that had a “ring of steel” security with more than 100.000 soldiers deployed, after 16 were killed in a terrorist attack right before the games.

It is reassuring that Brazil promised 85000 troops protecting Rio. Let’s only hope that their method of dealing with the potential terrorism isn’t going to be by singing “Girl from Ipanema” out of tune.

 

 

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And then suddenly this…

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